The seats lurched forward and a stale air was sprayed into our faces. My immediate thought, understandably, was: Why? This is what the theater experience had come to? As the seats continued to pitch to and fro I eyed the nearest exit. I don’t think I can do this. But then again, I am not one to waste money, least of all at a movie theater. More stale, rubbery, shoebox air waft over my face and eyes. Then again, there is a first time for everything. Resolve is clearly needed here. I will watch the film, paying no mind to the belches of air and constant vibrations happening in my seat. A simple task really. Ignore the world around you. I’ve been doing that for years. This just might work. Ah, but now the air is spitting at my ankles as we roll forward to such an angle I feel as though I might fall out of my seat entirely. Would it be strange if I sat on the floor?
My first 4D experience was startling. Walking into the theater, I had no idea that the tickets I had purchased would also serve as admission to this mock-roller coaster ride. These initial minutes were awkward, but soon my body became accustomed to the style. I re-established a feeling of comfort as my body began to categorize moviegoing as an immersive experience rather than a purely sedentary one. Once I began to anticipate the gusts of air and the rumbling in the film itself, it felt almost natural.
This got me thinking about how the moviegoing experience has changed and how we, as viewers, have been receptive to these changes. There is always resistance to change. Whether it be to preserve the past, or to avoid corruption, these changes and innovations are often met with some form of resistance or hesitant adoption. But what wins out in the end?
When 3D first hit the scene, it was remarkably shitty. Many of those initial 3D film sought to profit solely on the implementation of the technology rather than on the merits of the film itself. It was a gimmick. George Lucas was condemned for his overuse of CGI in place of practical sets and effects in the Star Wars prequels. But as soon as 3D began to use itself as a way to supplement, or even enhance the moviegoing experience, its merits and our ability to appreciate them greatly increased.
The use of CGI progressed in much the same way. Initially, it was a gimmick lacking a tangible thread into credible filmmaking. But once the technology progressed to such a point, CGI was regarded as a viable means of storytelling, when implemented with tact. In The Revenant, the grizzly bear attack was a centerpiece of the film and needed to be believable. CGI soared in that make or break scene.
Going back even further, during the advent of sound in film, viewers wondering if these ‘talkies’ watered down the effect of film. F. Scott Fitzgerald said as much in an Esquire article from 1936 when he described this phenomenon happening all over the world:
“[The] mechanical and communal art that, whether in the hands of Hollywood merchants or Russian idealists, was capable of reflecting only the tritest thought, the most obvious emotion.”
Of course, many today would contend that the breadth of emotion has expanded, rather than contracted, through the use of sound. But Fitzgerald hints at an important point.
We will undoubtedly lose something when we continue to add to the moviegoing experience. They will never be the same after we have included all these supplements. In the end, we may end up with something unrecognizable to our eyes. It may be a movie by name, but does it feel like a movie anymore? Has it become to trite and indulgent?
To be sure, some of these additions are compelling and can add something new and exciting to movies. But there is also beauty in simplicity, uncluttered by gimmicks and flashy lights. I find that criticizing additions to old media help us make them better and not lose sight at what made film great in the first place.
Featured Image By Meg Dolan / Heights Editor